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Scramble to tap Canada’s potential

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Scramble to tap Canada’s potential

By Ed Crooks

Published: September 16 2008 03:00 | Last updated: September 16 2008 03:00

In the past five years, Canada’s oil sands reserves have attracted interest from all the western oil majors, having found themselves shut out of or facing growing difficulties in other resource-rich countries such as Venezuela, Russia and Nigeria, writes Ed Crooks.

Many plan a steep increase in production, and Canada is expected to provide one of the biggest contributions to increased world oil supply over the next decade. The biggest producers have been Suncor Energy and Syncrude, two Canadian companies, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil.

All four are expanding, but they are being joined by many new entrants, including Total of France, StatoilHydro of Norway and BP, which late last year made a sharp U-turn from its previous strategy and signed an oil sands joint venture agreement with Husky Energy of Canada.

Shell is more heavily committed: oil sands represent only 2.4 per cent of its total production but more than 9 per cent of its reserves, and almost 23 per cent of its oil reserves.

If it is able to book more of its oil sands holdings under new rules from the US Securities and Exchange Commission, as is expected, those proportions will rise.

BP has been more tentative. Tony Hayward, the chief executive, has described its commitment as “relatively modest”.

In February he said: “I think there are lots of ways you can develop Canadian oil sands to provide the energy that the United States needs without causing undue issues with respect to the environment and the climate.”

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